Mainz, Germany:World Champion Viswanathan Anand suffered a double blow before recovering some lost ground in the third round in the Grenkeleasing World Rapid Chess Championship that got underway here as the main event of the Mainz Classics.
Anand, a ten times winner here including the last seven on the trot, could only manage one point from the first three games in the knock-out stage, losing the first two games against Levon Aronian of Armenia and Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia before defeating Arkadij Naiditsch of Germany.
At the half-way mark in the double round-robin preliminary stage, Aronian and Naiditsch share the lead on 2.5 points out of possible three while Anand follows them 1.5 points behind. The other contender, Naiditsch, is yet to open his account.
With just three games to come in the preliminaries, Anand faces a rare ouster threat as he will have to do exceptionally well to finish in the top two and qualify for the finals.
Making things worse for the Indian was that his defeats came with white pieces and the task of a comeback will now have to be carried out with black pieces against the leaders.
The first game of the day indicated that Anand was not in top form. Playing with white against Aronian he used an unusual amount of time in the opening. Even as he managed to secure himself the bishop pair things were far from clear.
Anand walked into a worse endgame and gave Aronian an important point in the opener.
As Anand himself explained in the post game conference, that "things were a bit complicated. Therefore I was ready to draw but did not want to sit too passively. But with little time on the clock I went astray."
In the second round, young Russian Nepomniachtchi had to face Anand with black pieces but fortune was on his side.
Nepomniachtchi opted for the sharp Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf Sicilian and as Anand later admitted in the press conference "I did not quite know what I was playing and could not clearly remember what to do in this line."
This blackout of the world champion gave Nepomniachtchi a better endgame and a second point. With no point from two games, Anand could not have had a worse start.
Anand, however, secured a comeback victory in the third round against Naiditsch in a Caro Kann defense game. Naiditsch chose a harmless variation in the early stages and lost a pawn right after the opening.
And even though Anand "almost managed to spoil even this game to a draw", as he said at the post-match press conference with a grim sense of humour, Naiditsch's extra pawn permitted a certain degree of inaccuracy.
Anand scored his first win, which he certainly needed to keep up his hopes alive in the event.